Well we arrived back at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution around noon on Saturday. Most of the day has been spent packing and preparing for our departure to our respective residences tomorrow. The treat of the evening for me was sharing dinner with my post-doctoral advisor Mary Rice. Mary is an emeritus scientist at the Smithsonian Institution and the former Director of the Smithsonian Marine Station at Link Port (now at Fort Pierce). She introduced me to the larvae of a wonderful group of animals, the sipunculan worms. I am hopeful that my lab can finish a research project on these pelagosphera larvae this summer.
Friday’s dives were not too productive with respect to reproductively ripe animals, but the morning dive (ca. 2,700 feet) was particularly deep and, as a result, some previously unseen animals were encountered. Of particular interest was a swimming sea cucumber Enypniaster eximia. E. eximia is red in color and roughly the size of a Nerf football. Although you may not believe that anything named a “cucumber” can be graceful, Enypniaster is an elegant, really breathtaking, swimmer. They will never win a speed contest, but theirs is an underwater ballet. The other creature that was a first for this cruise was the multi-armed sea star Novodinia antillensis. Most of us envision a sea star as a creature that wrestles open and digests a clam or mussel. Novodinia feeds in a very different manner – it deploys its many long arms up into the water column and capture shrimp-like organisms with pinchers called pedicellaria and then directs the prey to the mouth. Aside from this curious mode of feeding, this species is a reddish-orange in coloration and is a simply a beauty.
Overall this has been a successful cruise for everyone. The students all went down to the sea floor and viewed animals that many professional scientists only know from pictures. The objectives of the grant were largely met and the Oregon and Illinois groups will be returning to their respective campuses with embryos of shallow-water and deep-water species. The seas have been calm, the weather beautiful, and there were few interruptions of our work schedule. The down side (if there can be one) is that many of us are exhausted and have been “running” on adrenaline for a little while … and now the stress has stopped. Its 10 p.m. and bedtime for me.
I trust all is well in Bloomington.